Sunday it rained all day and gave me a fantastic opportunity to fill idle time with research. The topic this weekend? Converged and Hyper-converged infrastructure. I’ve heard of it and discussed the topic with subject matter experts, but don’t have people in my network that had much experience applying them in practice. In my research I keep coming back to the big question (for me) – what business problem does this solve and how?
But first, what is Converged Infrastructure (CI)? The easiest way to think of it is a computing package in a box. This would include compute, storage, networking, system management, and automation. You add one or more applications and BAM! You have an IT solution. Hyper-convergence is a CI environment with a hypervisor for virtualization added.
CI solutions are optimized for specific workloads so the buyer identifies workloads and then selects the vendor and solution that best fits their specific need. The optimization isn’t direct “for this workload use that offering”, rather you identify the critical metrics for your workload and select the solution based on the metrics. Some guidance is provided by vendors but it comes down to what you believe the critical metrics are for your solution.
You can get configurations optimized to various workloads and the cost and square footage should provide decent savings. There are also configurations called reference architecture integrated systems (RAIS), fabric architecture integrated systems (FAIS), infrastructure component integrated systems (ICIS), and finally, workload integrated systems (WIS). If you are against cloud-based solutions, this provides some of the benefits that IaaS and PaaS provide but in an on-premise fashion; for instance: optimize environments, automated configuration and deployment, quicker deployment, and easier operations and integration.
Given build-your own on-premise environment versus buying a CI solution, the CI solution provides a lot of value and should provide greater business value and more efficient operations. So the business problem CI solves is that for on-premise solutions you can reduce the required physical space and operational costs while gaining operational efficiency. There is a potential risk of vendor lock but also the control of having a single throat to choke if things are not functioning as expected.
From the research papers I read and the major vendor offerings I compared, Dell has more focused solutions than any other vendor and is trying to become (or is) the leader in the CI space. For on-premise solutions, CI solutions are worth reviewing and likely offer a tremendous upside. That said, comparing CI solutions to cloud would likely be a wasted effort.